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Accidents in prison or police custody

The right not to be injured by someone else’s negligence applies equally in a police station or prison. If the state detains an individual then it takes on a duty of care to make reasonable efforts so that person does not come to harm as a result of the detention. And the state is not exempt from the normal duties owed by organisations to people on their premises or in their care.

The following situations can give rise to a legal claim for compensation:

  • Special risk or vulnerability: There are occasionally cases reported where the authorities have placed a violent prisoner with a vulnerable cell mate, with tragic consequences. Or where a sex offender has not been segregated for their own protection and has been seriously assaulted by a fellow prison on the mainstream wing. The prison authorities’ duties include making a proper risk assessment on inmates and placing them according to their profile, and if they fail to carry out an assessment or get it completely wrong then they may be liable for the consequences.
  • Failure to treat: The inmate is in the hands of the prison or police services when it comes to medical treatment. He or she cannot simply make a GP appointment or wait at A & E to be seen by a doctor. So if a prisoner has a condition or injury and seeks medical attention but the prison or police officers negligently fail to assist by allowing access to a doctor then the problem may get worse. If that worsening then requires hospitalisation and a protracted recovery process or if it causes complications then the injured person has suffered a loss for which the prison or police service may be liable.
  • Slips, trips and falls: Any environment poses some risk of injury from accidental falls. Most accidents will not result in legal liability because there needs to be negligence and that needs to be proved. This applies equally in a prison or police station, and the nature of that setting is that it will be difficult to produce reliable independent witness or other evidence to show that the accident was caused by some negligent failure on the part of the authorities. However, we do succeed with claims where prisoners have suffered these sorts of injury. One case we dealt with in Osbornes personal injury team involved an inmate falling down a cast iron staircase because the floor above had been mopped but not dried and there was no warning sign. There was another well publicised case in 2010 where a prisoner fell 6 feet from the top bunk in his cell and suffered a brain injury.
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